Canada Place

Canada Place, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

With the world, and now much of Canada, under lockdown from the coronavirus, I’d say this is a good time to read things, don’t you?

Personally, though I think a bit of blocking might help the coronavirus recede, this world-stopping thing does suck. I’ve now also joined all those people who have cancelled their trips (I’ve received nothing but cancellations these last few days at my workplace), and have had to cancel my own weekend trip to the States in fear of having to self-isolate and be without work for two weeks. Now that is done with, I live in a new fear that my trip in July will not happen, either. Yes, this sucks. Although in other parts of the world it’s far worse, so my feeble complaining is moot.

It’s Saturday as I’m finishing this post up, and the streets of downtown Vancouver have never been quieter. I have the distinct feeling that the apocalypse has come (one in which there is no toilet paper apparently, which I haven’t expected it to be like), but I’m trying to look forward to happier times. Those, at the moment, are where I’ve walked around a few days ago, when the streets had looked more normal.

I ended up in a place, whenever anyone asks me what to see in Vancouver, is where I tell them to start first. Canada Place. (This will not be an apocalyptic version of Canada Place yet as it was still normal back a few days back, but I hope to have fun with the apocalyptic side of things quite soon.)

Anyway. Canada Place. For locals and visitors alike, it provides great views and entertainment (depending on the date and season); it’s not quite the westernmost point in Canada, but with the additional Canadian Trail it feels like it; and one can watch float planes landing and taking off, can see boats and cargo ships, seagulls, and, as I saw on this day, a very inquisitive goose (he was just hanging out there and it was pretty weird). But what is Canada Place? Why go there?

Because I think history is important (and awesome), here’s some quick background info. If you don’t much like history, you can skip over the next four paragraphs. (If you’re stuck at home, you might as well read them because you can’t do anything else anyway.)

We start this recap, of course, from the beginning. The land where Canada Place resides is called white rock in the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh languages, due to the white rocks that used to litter the area around Granville street once. (If you want to learn more about the First Nations, you can click here!) When the settlers came, they proceeded to use this land for sawmills, for distribution of lumber to other markets via ships, and for, eventually, a railway.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Pier B-C was built there in possibly 1927 (I read this at one location only and could not back it up with any of the archives, so this is a dubious date). Anyway, it became Pier B-C and did end up having a railway routed to it. This came in quite handy as trains could deliver their loads to the terminal, from where ships could take over. The initial idea was that ships carried on from Pier B-C towards the Orient, Australia and New Zealand, though there were also steamships that went to Vancouver Island and other locations (until about 1955). Pier B-C was a happening, busy place.

In the 80’s that changed. It was decided to transform Pier B-C into Canada Place, a convention center and a cruise ship terminal, for the 1986 World Fair. The plans were put into place and in 1983 Queen Elizabeth II herself came (with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of our presently quarantined PM, and the BC premier, Will R. Bennett) to officially mark the beginning of the construction of Canada Place by pouring in the first bit of concrete on the site (that’s pretty cool).

It took three years to build. From September 5th to October 27th, 1984, the sails were being put up alone (you can’t possibly miss seeing Canada Place due to those sails). It was finally complete in 1986 when Prince Charles then came (with the new Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney) to officially open the Canada Place pavilion. If you’re an architecture nut, the architects who designed it were Eberhard Zeidler and Barry Downs, and the firms that undertook the project officially were Zeidler Roberts and Musson Cattell MacKey (from what I could find, anyway, that made sense to me in English terms). In 2012, the Canadian Trail was added to Canada Place, celebrating the different provinces and territories across the country. That year it also joined the Port Authority, accepting cruise ships from all over.

Today, Canada Place is a busy place, albeit in a different way than it was when it was Pier B-C. It’s a convention center where various events are constantly being held. It now has Flyover Canada (which is a visual show – an indoors, touristy thing to do for when you’re not used to our rain), and it has the Pan Pacific Hotel glued to it, a Starbucks next to it (useful), and parking options (being downtown, they might be pricey ones), and it has the cruise terminal. This, if you’re new, is where I would begin wandering around Vancouver.

I say this for a reason. Canada Place gives you a taste of bits and pieces of Canada that you might catch a glimpse of if you’re a newcomer, or a reminder if you’re from here. The Canadian Trail does a good portion of that, as you follow the plaques of town, city and territory/province names on the cement ground, reminding you of these places so far away from here and all a part of this country (there is now also an app with information about the trail as you walk it). The Canadian flags do it intermittently as you walk down the length of Canada Place’s walkway and the little historical info stands give you an insight of back then. The view of the water, the trees of Stanley Park, and the mountains on the North Shore remind you additionally where you are. Around you, you’ll see float planes landing or taking off and seabirds flying around (or perching innocently – if they are and you’re eating something, don’t trust them, they’re dicks and will steal your food).

The Canadian Trail, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

Town, city, province and territory names across Canada (on the path that is the Canadian Trail at Canada Place), Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

To me, everything around Canada Place seems to scream Canada, and it had done so even before the Canadian Trail was implemented. The area there (as I have mentioned in the history bit) has naturally also a bit to do about the cruise port and the railway. Around Canada Place you can get some proper views of any cruise ships docking (they dock on either side of it and generally block the view), you’ll see where the Seabus terminal is (also a part of the transit system), and beneath and behind this terminal is the railway, built so long ago.

You’ll even see Waterfront Station, where the SkyTrain comes in and where you can catch multiple buses. The Station was built in 1914 as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway. On the other side of Canada Place (and away from Waterfront Station) you can see a walkway that goes around and towards an area I’m not delving into today, but hosts various places to eat, although from Canada Place the The Drop is visible (literally a huge rain drop – if you’re unsure why, please refer to Raincouver).

When I was a teenager, we used to go all over downtown (and everywhere, really – South Burnaby wasn’t exactly a happening place to grow up in). One of my favourite spots, or possibly the favourite spot, was an area by Waterfront Station called Granville Square Plaza. From here I could see Canada Place with its iconic sails, the railway, cargo ships waiting to dock and be loaded or unloaded – I could see shipping containers stacked up like Legos, patiently waiting. This area is still used for trade and shipping. I could see the mountains. I could see the Seabus taking people to the North Shore and to those mountains. It’s still one of my favourite places to be. Here, I feel at home. In a weird way, it has everything I love in one area.

Canada Place from Granville Square Plaza (also a view of where cruise ships dock), and mountains in distance, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

(From left to right, top to bottom) (1) View from Canada Place where cruise ships dock and the cargo terminal, (2) Railway beneath the walkway to the Seabus terminal, and Waterfront Station, (3) Waterfront Station (from Granville Square Plaza), (4) The Drop (blue statue on left in picture) and float plane landing with Stanley Park in distance, all in Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

This area suggests so many ideas for motion, that I don’t know in which direction I want to go in first. The mountains? Stanley Park? The city? It’s a vision of possibility, and I can kind of see how the settlers could have seen it as such with their ships and trains, though naturally by different terms. I don’t want to excel in trade (I have nothing to trade, so that might be why), but the possibilities remain in my mind for a time, even after I’ve left the place.

So what about you, who are reading this? If you’re a local, you’re sure to have your own opinion and favourite place, though I hope you know a little of what I mean when it comes to standing in this spot. It’s a good place to think and get away when you’re in the city, and a good place to travel to when you’re not in the city but need to go somewhere (transit-accessible and with mountain and sea). Traveling here used to be a trek for me but I used to brave it, if only for the view.

But why do I tell travelers to go here? It’s fairly simple. It’s the beginning. If you’re here for a cruise – OK, likely not now, since cruises are dead until July due to the outbreak – but anyway, if you’re here for a cruise eventually, the cruise ships dock at either end of Canada Place, as I’ve mentioned. The SkyTrain gets you to this area easily, but there are also taxis and shuttle companies that take people to the Canada Place cruise port terminal, though you might want to look into it since the last shuttle company I know of seemed to have stopped working randomly last year, so I have no idea what is happening this time around…or at least until we’re not all infected anymore. (Otherwise, the best would be to call your hotel – they will know the transportation options). But because of these ships, there are also plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby where one might feed and water oneself until their docking time comes. Always a plus!

If you’re here for wandering or waiting, I used to go to the Bellagio Cafe (somewhat near The Drop), because it has a good view and is strangely never as full as one would expect it to be, which is useful when it’s busy and summery (and they also have an outside seating area). It’s also somewhat expensive, but if you don’t care, then it’s fine, and if you do, their coffee is good (I used to sit there sometimes when I studied, and could still bravely walk away with head held high after paying for said coffee). Essentially, it’s there to treat you, even though the restaurant is evidently a tad older. But there are a list of other newer and more prominent restaurants and cafes along that strip too, especially if you’re waiting to get on your ship (when, that is, there actually are ships).

Since all (and by all, I mean our three) SkyTrain lines end at Waterfront Station, this is also a good place to start – if you need to go to port, if you want to go to the city, if you want to go to the wild (so, a hike or trail, not the kind of wild where you find your end in a van behind a river). If this SkyTrain business is getting confusing, you can go to the Translink website and take a look at our metro system. In case there is any question, yes, we are very proud of our three SkyTrain lines. The Seabus leaves from here as well and takes people to the North Shore, from where they can catch buses to some of the mountains nearby and go on a trail for a hike, a walk, or whatever they like. There are many websites that suggest trails here, like Vancouver Trails. It even lists them from difficulty level (if you’re at the kind of fitness level one generally has when it’s after Christmas). Another is Outdoor Vancouver (list of easy hikes/walks). I’m literally googling at this point – there are a bunch of these wandering websites.

If you want to stay on the city side but also want to walk around, you can start walking from Waterfront and Canada Place, and follow the seawall to Stanley park. The seawall goes around Stanley Park, which is about a 2-3 hour walk, but there are small trails that cut through the park too. If you make it to the other end of the park, you end up at English Bay beach (also a part of downtown), but you are literally able to walk the perimeter of all of downtown and end up at Main Street if you like (if you read the previous posts, this is towards the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant).

If you don’t want to walk that much, you can also quit (we’re on holiday, so why not?). Being downtown, there are options to give up and take a bus back to civilization again. You can also decide to head up the hill and towards the city itself and visit Granville Street, or the Art Gallery, or whatever floats your boat. You can also go eastwards (somewhat down the hill?) and go to Gastown (first area built in Vancouver when the settlers came) and go on to Chinatown. You can also zig-zag through the mess that is downtown and go through the business district and towards the residential, and then maybe back towards a beach, or a bridge, or a brewery, or Granville Island. You can literally go anywhere. If you don’t want to walk at all, there are buses at Waterfront station, SkyTrains to get you everywhere faster, and many people to ask for directions. There is also Steamworks next door, if you’ve given up by now and just want a beer. I’m just saying. It’s a great place to begin.

If you’re not sure what you want to do with yourself, there’s also an information stall at the very front of Canada Place where you can ask for suggestions, directions, and tours, I think, too. Many tour buses pick up here, including the Hop-On-Hop-Off tours (at the moment run by both Westcoast and Landsea tour companies), if that’s your sort of thing.

Information stand at Canada Place, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

If I were to suggest how to make a start from Canada Place, however, I would do it like so:

  1. Locate Starbucks (to the right of the Pan Pacific Hotel entrance and the picture just above) or Blenz (by the neat row of taxis waiting to pick people up – if you’re not sure where these are, ask, they’re very noticeable) and buy a drink of your choice. If you like coffee like me and are not used to North American coffee, do not buy normal drip coffee from Starbucks, it tastes positively sour (it tastes better after you’ve been exposed to it for a few months, though).
  2. Take the Canadian Trail. Whether in sunny conditions or wet ones (I need not add, dress for the weather), follow the names of places you might not even ever go to, all the way to the end. There is a funny frame there, where they put up a screen in the summers and we watch outdoor movies. Then follow around the corner and return by Canada Place’s other side. That, by the way, was where I saw the goose. I still have no idea what he was doing there.
Goose at Canada Place, Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020
  1. Walk by the taxis (you can see them behind the goose) and take the stairs up on the left side (or the long way around to Waterfront Station, but I suggest the stairs, are quicker) past the convenience store, and up to Granville Square Plaza. You’ll see the old Granville Square building (I think it still holds Vancouver Sun within, a newspaper here). From here, you can see the Canada Place sails, the cargo containers, the rails and trains (pictures from above somewhere).

(From left to right) (1) Granville Square 200 Building, (2) Granville Square Plaza (Granville Square building on left, Waterfront Station on right), Vancouver, BC | Treensbert Churchmouse, 2020

  1. Go into Waterfront Station, buy a 1-zone transit ticket and take the Seabus to the North Shore. It’ll spit you out after ten minutes at Lonsdale Quay where there is a small market. Sample all the stands you possibly can. Again, if you take food outside to eat (you have a great view of downtown Vancouver from here), keep an eye on those sneaky seagulls. They are dicks on this side of the harbour too.
  2. Walk off the food by walking westwards from the Quay (there’s a small park area here called Waterfront Park, and also has great views of Vancouver).
  3. Take the Seabus back after the walking is done with, and enjoy a well-earned beer at Steamworks (beside Waterfront Station). I suggest asking for a window seat if possible. Those are the best.

It’s not a long visit, but an easy, simple one. It’s a lazy, wandering sort of trip, filled with good views, some history, food (always needed), and a small taste of what we’re about. To get a better feel of this country you need to go deeper: go to Vancouver Island, go to upper BC, go to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, P.E.I or Newfoundland, to Nunavut or Yukon. But if you’re not going anywhere, might as well start here. You have to start somewhere, at any rate.

If you have a favourite part of Vancouver, leave a comment and share!

Sources & Links:

Canada Place – cruise port and convention center | Canada Place Architects | Canadian Trail – walkway along Canada Place | Coast Salish Land – history behind Indigenous land where Canada Place sits today | English Bay Beach – beach in downtown Vancouver | Flyover Canada – indoors visual show | Granville Island – market under the Granville Street bridge | Granville Street – entertainment district of Vancouver || Pier B-C History: general history | more detailed history – about transformation from Pier B-C to Canada Place || Port Authority – Port of Vancouver and its governance || Railway History: quick history | detailed history – McGill University | more detailed history – Canadian Encyclopedia | CP – history from Canadian Pacific Railway site | ViaRail – history from ViaRail site || Stanley Park – big park in downtown Vancouver | Steamworks – brewery and restaurant by Waterfront Station | Translink – our local transport website | Vancouver Art Gallery – main art gallery in downtown Vancouver || Wandering sites for trails: Vancouver Trails | Outdoor Vancouver – also list of easy walks and hikes || Waterfront Park – small park on North Shore with nice views of Vancouver downtown

Tell me when there’s more!

Published by Treensbert Churchmouse

I'm a European-born individual, raised on the west coast of Canada in beautiful BC, and a Vancouverite at heart. I love the world of city, sea, and mountain we are lucky to have, thanks to many years of some proper tectonic plate action. Vancouver is a vast, thriving west coast city, balanced perfectly with the peace of the wild surrounding it. That said, I love to explore, but also to escape! I'm a writing and travel enthusiast and have a good foot wedged into the tourism industry (it only follows, if one is a travel junkie). I hope to share what I see and learn about my experiences with those who might like to try the same.

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